For a special needs parent, entering the special education process can be quite complex. However, some parents jump right into the middle of it without asking essential questions first. If your child is newly diagnosed or has just received a special education eligibility, then you first want to make sure you get and understand foundational information before you move forward.
So what should you be asking?
What does my child’s disability mean?
In order to receive special education services, your child has to qualify under one of the 13 categories of special education listed under IDEA. But once your child has a special education eligibility, what does that mean? For example, if your child qualified for services under a Specific Learning Disability (SLD), what exactly is your child struggling with? What weaknesses were shown in their evaluations? What does the research say about children with SLDs? Make sure you understand this information and if you have questions, do not hesitate to ask. When you are going over your child’s evaluation at their eligibility meeting, the school psychologist or evaluator should be able to answer all of your questions.
How will they record my child’s progress?
Your child is now receiving special education services. But how do you know if they are making progress? This is a major question for parents. Since collecting data can vary from school district to school district and within the same school from teacher to teacher, you need to know how YOUR child’s teacher will be collecting data. It would make it easier if data collection was universal across school districts, but that is not always the case. This is why you need to ask questions about how the data is collected, when the data is collected and how percentages are calculated. Do not leave the IEP meeting table, until you understand this process.
What information is in your State’s Procedural Safeguards?
Before your first meeting, you should have read your State’s Procedural Safeguards. In your State’s Procedural Safeguards, you can find out information about your child’s evaluation, the procedures if you wanted to get an Independent Educational Evaluation, and what you can do if you disagree with the school district. When you do have any questions, always refer back to your State’s Procedural Safeguards first. If you have additional questions, then ask the IEP team. Sometimes carrying around and reading your State’s Procedural Safeguards can be overwhelming (they are often at least 20 pages). Here is a nice pocket guide for quick reference.
What staff will be working with my child?
There are various special educational personnel and all students do not work with every individual. It all depends on your child’s eligibility and specific needs. If your child does not qualify for speech and language services, they will not see the speech and language therapist. The same thing goes for occupational therapy, physical therapy, special education nursing, adaptive physical education, mobility services, etc. Sometimes parents misunderstand a special education eligibility. They think once their child qualifies for any special education service, then all special education services are available to them and this is not the case. It all depends on your child’s individual needs. Always ask questions if you are not sure what services they will be receiving and who will be providing these services.
How will the school help my child?
What type of support will be provided for my child?
This pertains to accommodations/modifications, 1:1 support, mobility equipment, sensory breaks…basically anything that is listed in your child’s IEP that will support them throughout the day. Sometimes things are listed in the IEP and they are not followed. Always know exactly what supports your child is receiving and follow up to make sure they are receiving them.
Making sure you have the essential information in the beginning will make the special education process so much smoother. To help understand the IEP process, do not forget to get your copy of A Parent’s IEP Guide. This guide breaks everything down so you can understand your child’s IEP process in simple terms.
Share what struggles you have had in the beginning!